- Associated Press - Thursday, September 8, 2011

If I had to choose one recipe that defined summer on a plate, it would be lemon chicken steaks with summer salad.

I love making this meal-in-one at the end of the summer when the farmers markets and backyard gardens are bursting with cucumbers and tomatoes. It’s a great way to use all that extra produce.

The chicken “steaks” start with boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are lightly pounded until they are about a half-inch think. This allows the chicken to cook quickly and evenly. For all those cooks who are nervous about pounding the chicken, here is a foolproof approach.

To start, remove the tenderloin from the backsides of the chicken breasts (they can be saved and used for something else). Coat the breasts with oil, then place them one at a time in a zip-close plastic bag. The oil is essential, as it will prevent the chicken from shredding as it is pounded.

Close the bag and, using a rolling pin or meat pounder, pound away until the chicken breast is large and evenly flat. You can do this step up to a day ahead and keep the chicken in the refrigerator in the closed bag until you are ready to cook.

The beauty of this salad is that there is no lettuce, so the salad can be made in advance and left undressed. The base of the salad is comprised of chunks of cucumber, tomato, onions, feta cheese and black olives. You could add mushrooms or sugar snap peas or radishes, anything you like or you need to use up.

It’s best to do the chopping and mixing before you grill the chicken, as it won’t take long on the grill and you’ll want to serve the chicken soon after it cooks.

I prefer using an outdoor grill because there is virtually nothing to clean, but you also can use a grill pan. The chicken is grilled with a light coat of olive oil and seasoned simply with kosher salt and pepper.

The real magic happens when the grilling is done. As soon as the chicken comes off the grill, squeeze fresh lemon juice over both sides of the meat. The hot chicken absorbs the lemon juice as it rests and it makes all the difference. The chicken sparkles like a star and takes this salad from simple to spectacular.

Wait five minutes and place a chicken “steak” on top of the salad and serve with a dollop of tzatziki — garlic-cucumber yogurt dressing.

The tzatziki can be made up to three days in advance. The flavors intensify and taste better once they have had a chance to meld. The recipe will make about 2 cups, and you will have leftovers. It also makes a delicious dip and sandwich spread. The chicken also is good served on top of a Greek salad with a spicy oregano vinaigrette.


For the salad:

4 medium fully ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into ½-inch chunks

1 small red onion, halved and sliced into semicircle rings

20 oil-cured black olives, more or less to taste

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried or fresh herbs, such as oregano, basil, thyme, etc.

2 ounces feta cheese, cut into 8 pieces (optional)

For the tzatziki dressing:

2 cups plain, nonfat Greek-style yogurt

½ medium seedless cucumber, diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

For the chicken:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Olive oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 lemons, cut into wedges

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Strips of lemon zest, to garnish (optional)

To prepare the salad, in a large bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and olives. Mix well, then season with salt, pepper and herbs. Add the feta cheese, if using, then set aside.

To prepare the tzatziki, in a large bowl combine the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make the chicken, heat the grill to medium. Pat dry each breast and remove the tenderloins, if still attached.

Brush each piece of chicken lightly with oil on both sides. One at a time, place each chicken breast in a zip-close plastic bag. Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, gently pound each breast until evenly ½-inch thick. At this stage, the chicken can be refrigerated for cooking later.

Brush each piece of chicken “steak” with olive oil again on both sides.

Season each breast with salt and pepper, then grill directly over the heat for about 6 minutes, turning once halfway through the cooking time. When the chicken is marked and cooked through, remove from the grill. Immediately, squeeze 1 or 2 lemon wedges over each piece of chicken and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley and strips of lemon zest, if desired.

Serve on top of the summer salad with a spoonful of tzatziki.

Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and the District, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including “Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned.”

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